© Anna - adobe.stock.com

Biodegradability

Everything bio or what?
From the definition to standards and certificates to meaningful areas of application – here you will find everything you need to know about biodegradability.

What does "biodegradable" mean in bioplastics?

The term “bio” is used in the field of plastics for materials that are either bio-based (contain a proportion of renewable raw materials, regardless of the amount of the proportion), are biodegradable, or meet both criteria. A biodegradable plastic that is 100 % petroleum-based is therefore also referred to as a bioplastic or bioplastic, just like a plastic that is made from 100 % vegetable components but is not degradable. The chemical structure of the plastic is decisive. In contrast to food, the term “organic” in the field of plastics does not mean the ecological production of the renewable raw materials used.

The term “degradable” is defined according to DIN EN ISO 14021 as follows:

A characteristic of a product or packaging that, with respect to specific conditions, allows it to break down to a specific extent within a given time. Degradability is a function of susceptibility to changes in chemical structure. Consequent changes in physical and mechanical properties lead to the disintegration of the product or material. Claims of degradability shall only be made in relation to a specific test method that includes maximum  level  of  degradation  and  test duration,  and  shall  be  relevant  to  the circumstances  in  which  the  product  or packaging is likely to be disposed.“

Biodegradation occurs in products made from such plastics – e.g. in our biodegradable dog waste bags – mainly through oxidation and hydrolysis processes. Microorganisms such as bacteria, protozoa or fungi or enzymes use the material as food and energy source. After the degradation process, the only degradation products that remain are water, carbon dioxide (CO2), mineral salts and biomass.

© 994yellow - adobe.stock.com

What standards and certificates are there with regard to the biodegradability of products?

Products and packaging bearing the “OK compost” logo are guaranteed to be biodegradable in an industrial composting plant. The reference point for this certification program is the harmonized standard EN 13432. All of our compostable products meet this central European standard for biodegradability under industrial conditions.

According to EN 13432, at least 90 % of the organic material must have been converted into CO₂ after 6 months under industrial compost conditions (at temperatures of 60 – 70 °C). Our biodegradable dog waste bags do this with ease – even if we made the material almost 8 times as thick, our material still meets the norm.

In order to reduce the negative effects of environmental pollution, e.g. from dog waste bags, it is crucial that the degradation also works under European temperature conditions. This is not covered by EN 13432, but can be ensured through certificates. A certificate that is widely used (comparability) and ensures conformity with EN 13432 as well as tests under local temperature conditions (20 – 30 ° C) is the “OK compost HOME” certificate from a recognized body.

The leading European certification authority TÜV Austria awards the recognized “OK compost HOME” logo. All OK compost HOME certified materials comply with EN 13432, but biodegradation is also tested under home compost conditions at 20 – 30 °C. At least 90 % of the material must be degraded within 12 months. The thicker a material, the longer it takes to break down (similar to a tree trunk compared to a branch). Our TSP bioplastic has also achieved the OK compost HOME certification in a thickness of more than 60 µm. Biodegradable products from The Sustainable People have a maximum thickness of 20 µm (of course, larger thicknesses would also be technically possible), i.e. only a third of that. This means that dismantling takes place in a fraction of the estimated time.

Note: the temperature during the tests is above the average temperature in Germany and microorganisms are more abundant, so that degradation may take place faster than in nature. Nevertheless, from our point of view, the OK compost HOME certificate is the best indicator that biodegradation also works in nature (at a noteworthy speed).

© Martina - adobe.stock.com

In which areas does it make sense to use biodegradable plastics?

Basically everywhere where the use of the biodegradable material – from an ecological point of view – can generate added value compared to conventional plastics.

 

Example: biodegradable dog waste bags

Dog owners understandably like to go for a walk with their dog in green spaces or by the water – in other words, where it is particularly painful when the poop bags get into the environment. We regularly carry out clean-up actions, during which we have already found and disposed of thousands of dog waste bags. These include folded, unused bags that were obviously unintentionally released into the environment. In addition, many dog ​​waste bags are even willfully disposed of.

It is therefore crucial for us that as many dog ​​waste bags as possible are replaced with biodegradable material. To ensure that biodegradation is also fundamentally possible at ambient temperatures, home compostability (OK compost HOME certification) is the best indicator from our point of view, as tests are carried out here at 20 – 30 °C, albeit under defined conditions. In comparison to industrial compostability, at temperatures sometimes over 60 °C as well as oxo poop bags (approx. 98 % PE + 2% additives such as EPI or d2w), home compostability is therefore a central added value for us.

Biodegradable dog waste bags from The Sustainable People are made from the latest generation of bioplastics and are OK compost HOME certified, i.e. at least 90 % degraded under home compost conditions within 12 months at the latest. Under good decomposition conditions in the nature of Hamburg (sufficient presence of microorganisms, solar radiation, moisture), only part of the knot was left after three months in one of our own tests in spring, as you can see in the following video clip:

(Note: the bag visible in the video clip is filled with dog excrement in order to create the most authentic test conditions possible. Admittedly – there are nicer sights!)

Play Video

Bags filled with dog poop should of course always be disposed of with the residual waste due to possible pathogens. By the way, when it comes to disposal via residual waste with subsequent thermal recycling, our bioplastics have another decisive advantage: only as much CO₂ is released from the renewable material components as was absorbed in the growth phase – compared to PE bags made from new granulate, this results in CO₂ saving.

Example: home-compostable / biodegradable garbage bags

In many places in Germany, it is forbidden by the authorities to dispose of bin liners made from compostable materials in organic waste. Disposers usually argue that compostable film products do not decompose quickly enough in industrial composting plants. Therefore, such bags are classified as “contaminants” that would affect the quality of the compost to be produced. As a result, the packaging is usually sorted out immediately upon arrival at the plants and sent to the residual waste (= incineration).

The criticism from the disposal companies essentially refers to the rotting time of “max. 12 weeks”. The EN 13432 is the best-known European standard for the compostability of film products. According to this standard, a sufficient level of disintegration should be present after 12 weeks under industrial or semi-industrial composting conditions. From our point of view, however, this period is far too long compared to the real picture of the rotting times in German composting plants (max. 6 weeks) and is therefore no longer contemporary. This is also particularly annoying for us because compostable organic waste bags are also affected by this situation.

Many bioplastics easily meet the European standard for composting in industrial composting plants (EN 13432) – even at around 8 times the strength currently used for bin liners, they would still degrade quickly enough. The thicker a material, the longer it will take to degrade (similar to tree trunk versus a branch). There is also no such thing as “the bioplastic”, but a whole range of materials that degrade at different speeds. For us, there is no question that some of these materials meet the requirements for trouble-free recycling in German industrial composting plants.

For the reasons mentioned above, however, it is currently forbidden in many places in Germany to put such bags in the organic waste bin. In addition, some disposal companies cannot distinguish between biodegradable garbage bags and conventional garbage bags (which unfortunately are put in the organic waste bin time and again), so that in most cases no bags are accepted at all – regardless of whether they are compostable or not.

However, there is a positive development: the certification program “Biowaste Bags DINplus” in which – in addition to DIN EN 13432 – a composting duration of max. 6 weeks is referred to. In the future, this standard should help to increase the acceptance of compostable organic waste bags – which are certified accordingly – in Germany. We are also currently working at full speed on the development of compostable garbage bags, which we will certify according to the “DINplus organic waste bag” standard.

In general, the benefit of using biodegradable biowaste bags is primarily an increased amount of biowaste, since the convenience for consumers results from the joint disposal of biowaste bags and biowaste (hygienic, clean and easy). At the same time, the use of biodegradable garbage bags can reduce the amount of organic waste in the residual waste, so that the potential for valuable organic waste can be better exploited overall. In addition, compostable bin liners are breathable, which can reduce moisture and the build-up of mold and unpleasant odors. As a result, the organic waste – which naturally has a particularly high water content – can release moisture, which also reduces the weight and thus less energy is required for transport.

For deepening this topic we recommend the report published by the Federal Environment Agency in 2018 on the treatment of biodegradable plastics. Different strategies and disposal concepts – especially in Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden – for biodegradable plastics are presented and compared. Despite the large amount of information and in view of the complexity of the topic, the report is very clear and also provides a positive conclusion on bio-waste bags made from biodegradable plastics.

In addition, the planned revisions of the German Biowaste Ordinance („Bioabfallverordnung“) can be read in the decision of the Federal Cabinet of September 22, 2021. It says (own translation of original German text), among other things:

“[…] Finally, the addition of biowaste collection bags made of biodegradable plastics from the separate biowaste collection for composting together with the biowaste is still permitted (column 3, sentence 1 and letter c). The requirements for these collection bags are specified in the revised table line and in some cases also tightened in order to eliminate the problems in practice with the biological treatment of these bags. This means that the ecological advantage of the collection bags, a clean and hygienic collection of organic waste both in the domestic organic waste bin and in the organic bin, can continue to be used. In addition, several large-scale tests in rural and urban areas (Bad Dürkheim, Berlin, Kassel and Munich) with the introduction of biodegradable plastic collection bags together with intensive public relations work by the local waste advisory service have shown that both the amount of organic waste collected has increased and the number of misthrows with conventional plastic bags in the organic waste bin has been significantly reduced. Due to their tear strength and tightness, biodegradable plastic collection bags are suitable for collection and transport, e.g. to the compost bin or to the collection container, in particular of damp and wet organic waste from the kitchen, e.g. B. Cooked leftovers. Paper collection bags are only partially suitable for such organic waste. […]”

Home-compostable organic waste bags from The Sustainable People are ideal for compostable waste from the kitchen and garden. For example: fruit and vegetable residues, tea and coffee grounds (also with filter bags), nut and egg shells, garden and plant waste. Our organic waste bags are even certified in 4-fold strength OK compost HOME and are therefore home-compostable. They also rot on the domestic compost without leaving any pollutants behind. The quality of the resulting compost is guaranteed.

Is your packaging also biodegradable?

Yes, the packaging used for our standard products are all made of FSC certified material and are therefore biodegradable. The roll core of our biodegradable dog waste bags is made of cardboard, as is the sticker that holds the small rolls together. Of course, the packaging of our products – even if it is biodegradable – should always be disposed of in the waste paper.

© Anna - adobe.stock.com

Biodegradability

Everything bio or what?
From the definition to standards and certificates to meaningful areas of application – here you will find everything you need to know about biodegradability.

What does “biodegradable” mean in bioplastics?

The term “bio” is used in the field of plastics for materials that are either bio-based (contain a proportion of renewable raw materials, regardless of the amount of the proportion), are biodegradable, or meet both criteria. A biodegradable plastic that is 100 % petroleum-based is therefore also referred to as a bioplastic or bioplastic, just like a plastic that is made from 100 % vegetable components but is not degradable. The chemical structure of the plastic is decisive. In contrast to food, the term “bio” in the field of plastics does not mean the ecological production of the renewable raw materials used.

 

The term “degradable” is defined according to DIN EN ISO 14021 as follows:

A characteristic of a product or packaging that, with respect to specific conditions, allows it to break down to a specific extent within a given time. Degradability is a function of susceptibility to changes in chemical structure. Consequent changes in physical and mechanical properties lead to the disintegration of the product or material.  Claims of degradability shall only be made in relation to a specific test method that includes maximum  level  of  degradation  and  test duration,  and  shall  be  relevant  to  the circumstances  in  which  the  product  or packaging is likely to be disposed.“

Biodegradation occurs in products made from such plastics – e.g. in our biodegradable dog waste bags – mainly through oxidation and hydrolysis processes. Microorganisms such as bacteria, protozoa or fungi or enzymes use the material as food and energy source. After the degradation process, the only degradation products that remain are water, carbon dioxide (CO2), mineral salts and biomass.

© 994yellow - adobe.stock.com

What standards and certificates are there with
regard to the biodegradability of products?

Products and packaging bearing the “OK compost” logo are guaranteed to be biodegradable in an industrial composting plant. The reference point for this certification program is the harmonized standard EN 13432. All of our compostable products meet this central European standard for biodegradability under industrial conditions.

According to EN 13432, at least 90 % of the organic material must have been converted into CO₂ after 6 months under industrial compost conditions (at temperatures of 60 – 70 °C). Our biodegradable dog waste bags do this with ease – even if we made the material almost 8 times as thick, our material still meets the norm.

In order to reduce the negative effects of environmental pollution, e.g. from dog waste bags, it is crucial that the degradation also works under European temperature conditions. This is not covered by EN 13432, but can be ensured through certificates. A certificate that is widely used (comparability) and ensures conformity with EN 13432 as well as tests under local temperature conditions (20 – 30 ° C) is the “OK compost HOME” certificate from a recognized body.

The leading European certification authority TÜV Austria awards the recognized “OK compost HOME” logo. All OK compost HOME certified materials comply with EN 13432, but biodegradation is also tested under home compost conditions at 20 – 30 °C. At least 90 % of the material must be degraded within 12 months. The thicker a material, the longer it takes to break down (similar to a tree trunk compared to a branch). Our TSP bioplastic has also achieved the OK compost HOME certification in a thickness of more than 60 µm. Biodegradable products from The Sustainable People have a maximum thickness of 20 µm (of course, larger thicknesses would also be technically possible), i.e. only a third of that. This means that dismantling takes place in a fraction of the estimated time.

Note: the temperature during the tests is above the average temperature in Germany and microorganisms are more abundant, so that degradation may take place faster than in nature. Nevertheless, from our point of view, the OK compost HOME certificate is the best indicator that biodegradation also works in nature (at a noteworthy speed).

© Martina - adobe.stock.com

In which areas does it make sense to use biodegradable plastics?

Basically everywhere where the use of the biodegradable material – from an ecological point of view – can generate added value compared to conventional plastics.

Example: biodegradable dog waste bags

Dog owners understandably like to go for a walk with their dog in green spaces or by the water – in other words, where it is particularly painful when the poop bags get into the environment. We regularly carry out clean-up actions, during which we have already found and disposed of thousands of dog waste bags. These include folded, unused bags that were obviously unintentionally released into the environment. In addition, many dog ​​waste bags are even willfully disposed of.

It is therefore crucial for us that as many dog ​​waste bags as possible are replaced with biodegradable material. To ensure that biodegradation is also fundamentally possible at ambient temperatures, home compostability (OK compost HOME certification) is the best indicator from our point of view, as tests are carried out here at 20 – 30 °C, albeit under defined conditions. In comparison to industrial compostability, at temperatures sometimes over 60 °C as well as oxo poop bags (approx. 98 % PE + 2% additives such as EPI or d2w), home compostability is therefore a central added value for us.

Biodegradable dog waste bags from The Sustainable People are made from the latest generation of bioplastics and are OK compost HOME certified, i.e. at least 90 % degraded under home compost conditions within 12 months at the latest. Under good decomposition conditions in the nature of Hamburg (sufficient presence of microorganisms, solar radiation, moisture), only part of the knot was left after three months in one of our own tests in spring, as you can see in the following video clip:

(Note: the bag visible in the video clip is filled with dog excrement in order to create the most authentic test conditions possible. Admittedly – there are nicer sights!)

Play Video

Bags filled with dog poop should of course always be disposed of with the residual waste due to possible pathogens. By the way, when it comes to disposal via residual waste with subsequent thermal recycling, our bioplastics have another decisive advantage: only as much CO₂ is released from the renewable material components as was absorbed in the growth phase – compared to PE bags made from new granulate, this results in CO₂ saving.

 

Example: home-compostable / biodegradable garbage bags

In many places in Germany, it is forbidden by the authorities to dispose of bin liners made from compostable materials in organic waste. Disposers usually argue that compostable film products do not decompose quickly enough in industrial composting plants. Therefore, such bags are classified as “contaminants” that would affect the quality of the compost to be produced. As a result, the packaging is usually sorted out immediately upon arrival at the plants and sent to the residual waste (= incineration).

The criticism from the disposal companies essentially refers to the rotting time of “max. 12 weeks”. The EN 13432 is the best-known European standard for the compostability of film products. According to this standard, a sufficient level of disintegration should be present after 12 weeks under industrial or semi-industrial composting conditions. From our point of view, however, this period is far too long compared to the real picture of the rotting times in German composting plants (max. 6 weeks) and is therefore no longer contemporary. This is also particularly annoying for us because compostable organic waste bags are also affected by this situation.

Many bioplastics easily meet the European standard for composting in industrial composting plants (EN 13432) – even at around 8 times the strength currently used for bin liners, they would still degrade quickly enough. The thicker a material, the longer it will take to degrade (similar to tree trunk versus a branch). There is also no such thing as “the bioplastic”, but a whole range of materials that degrade at different speeds. For us, there is no question that some of these materials meet the requirements for trouble-free recycling in German industrial composting plants.

For the reasons mentioned above, however, it is currently forbidden in many places in Germany to put such bags in the organic waste bin. In addition, some disposal companies cannot distinguish between biodegradable garbage bags and conventional garbage bags (which unfortunately are put in the organic waste bin time and again), so that in most cases no bags are accepted at all – regardless of whether they are compostable or not.

However, there is a positive development: the certification program “Biowaste Bags DINplus” in which – in addition to DIN EN 13432 – a composting duration of max. 6 weeks is referred to. In the future, this standard should help to increase the acceptance of compostable organic waste bags – which are certified accordingly – in Germany. We are also currently working at full speed on the development of compostable garbage bags, which we will certify according to the “DINplus organic waste bag” standard.

In general, the benefit of using biodegradable biowaste bags is primarily an increased amount of biowaste, since the convenience for consumers results from the joint disposal of biowaste bags and biowaste (hygienic, clean and easy). At the same time, the use of biodegradable garbage bags can reduce the amount of organic waste in the residual waste, so that the potential for valuable organic waste can be better exploited overall. In addition, compostable bin liners are breathable, which can reduce moisture and the build-up of mold and unpleasant odors. As a result, the organic waste – which naturally has a particularly high water content – can release moisture, which also reduces the weight and thus less energy is required for transport.

For deepening this topic we recommend the report published by the Federal Environment Agency in 2018 on the treatment of biodegradable plastics. Different strategies and disposal concepts – especially in Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden – for biodegradable plastics are presented and compared. Despite the large amount of information and in view of the complexity of the topic, the report is very clear and also provides a positive conclusion on bio-waste bags made from biodegradable plastics.

In addition, the planned revisions of the German Biowaste Ordinance („Bioabfallverordnung“) can be read in the decision of the Federal Cabinet of September 22, 2021. It says (own translation of original German text), among other things:

“[…] Finally, the addition of biowaste collection bags made of biodegradable plastics from the separate biowaste collection for composting together with the biowaste is still permitted (column 3, sentence 1 and letter c). The requirements for these collection bags are specified in the revised table line and in some cases also tightened in order to eliminate the problems in practice with the biological treatment of these bags. This means that the ecological advantage of the collection bags, a clean and hygienic collection of organic waste both in the domestic organic waste bin and in the organic bin, can continue to be used. In addition, several large-scale tests in rural and urban areas (Bad Dürkheim, Berlin, Kassel and Munich) with the introduction of biodegradable plastic collection bags together with intensive public relations work by the local waste advisory service have shown that both the amount of organic waste collected has increased and the number of misthrows with conventional plastic bags in the organic waste bin has been significantly reduced. Due to their tear strength and tightness, biodegradable plastic collection bags are suitable for collection and transport, e.g. to the compost bin or to the collection container, in particular of damp and wet organic waste from the kitchen, e.g. B. Cooked leftovers. Paper collection bags are only partially suitable for such organic waste. […]”

Home-compostable organic waste bags from The Sustainable People are ideal for compostable waste from the kitchen and garden. For example: fruit and vegetable residues, tea and coffee grounds (also with filter bags), nut and egg shells, garden and plant waste. Our organic waste bags are even certified in 4-fold strength OK compost HOME and are therefore home-compostable. They also rot on the domestic compost without leaving any pollutants behind. The quality of the resulting compost is guaranteed.

Is your packaging also biodegradable?

Yes, the packaging used for our standard products are all made of FSC certified material and are therefore biodegradable. The roll core of our biodegradable dog waste bags is made of cardboard, as is the sticker that holds the small rolls together. Of course, the packaging of our products – even if it is biodegradable – should always be disposed of in the waste paper.

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+49 (0)40 – 881 973 63
info@thesustainablepeople.com

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